Polls unlikely to solve problems in Jordan

Little sign the election will lead to a breakthrough in addressing Jordan’s economic or political woes. Published in MEED, 23 January 2013

As Jordanians went to the polls on 23 January, there was little sign that the election would lead to a breakthrough in dealing with the country’s economic or political problems.

King Abdullah II has talked about reform more than most rulers over the past two years, but progress has been limited. An Independent Elections Commission has been established, as has a National Integrity Committee to tackle corruption, but the balance of power between the people and the elite has barely shifted.

The parliament that will emerge from this election – the fourth in 10 years – will closely resemble those that went before. With the overwhelming majority of MPs elected as independents there is little chance of strong political groups emerging with policy platforms to challenge the status quo.

That means that, like its predecessors, the newly elected chamber will have little effective power. The king has promised to consult parliament over the selection of the next prime minister, but the final choice remains with him, as does so much in the country.

The king’s vision of creating a parliamentary democracy is probably the best way out of this political inertia, but like many rulers around the region, he finds it easier to think of reasons to go slowly with reforms rather than press on.

As a result, parliamentary democracy looks as far away as ever. In its place, opposition groups will continue to take to the streets. There is little appetite in Jordan for the sort of revolutions witnessed in neighbouring countries, but protesters know that if they bring enough people on to the streets they can force changes.

Jordan has few economic resources to draw on and little room for manoeuvre when it comes to finance. The current political system makes the situation harder as it is all but impossible for a government to push through fiscal reforms. Even a seemingly inconsequential election can have consequences.